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Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott School Hollywood

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by Melissa Silverstein
May 5, 2014 10:00 AM
2 Comments
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When I started writing Women and Hollywood seven years ago sometimes I thought I was nuts. I would write about issues related to gender and films and there were times when I felt I was shooting my words out into space and no one was listening. 

Now, things have changed. This issue is everywhere. 

It is even in the mainstream newspapers like the NY Times. In their Memos to Hollywood  in the current Summer Movie section, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott addressed important issues facing the industry and they both discussed the gender problem --onscreen and behind the scenes. The issue of gender is so important -- they take on women directors, superheroes and funny women -- that the story is subtitled "critics weigh in on patriarchy..." .

Manohla Dargis has been consistently one of the strongest and most consistent voices speaking about the issue. Her letter to Hollywood liberals needs no commentary, no embellishment. It is spot on. She is just so amazing on this topic.

She also challenges deep pocketed young producers like Megan Ellison to use their money to seek out and help support emerging talent who desperately need help, not just established voices.

To: Hollywood liberals

Cc: Amy Pascal, Steven Spielberg, etc.

From: Manohla Dargis

You donated millions to President Obama's campaigns, you drive hybrid cars. You don't like fracking, you do like recycling. You're against bullying, you're for marriage equality. You've traveled from Haiti to Congo, Sudan and beyond to lend a generous hand. The six major studios plant trees, recycle, reuse and even compost, and claim that they're working on becoming 100 percent sustainable. In 2011, Sony Pictures Entertainment in Culver City, Calif., became the first zero waste lot, which, unfortunately, doesn't mean the end of Adam Sandler movies. You may be confused about gun control, as is the rest of the country, and you make bank on representations of extreme violence - but when it comes to many issues, you are often as liberal as conservatives insist you are.

So ... what's up with not hiring women to direct movies? Is there something about double-X chromosomes that makes you squeamish? Are women biologically incapable of directing movies, especially the franchises that prop up the big studios year after year? It's not like women can't blow stuff up (see Kathryn Bigelow) and that every man can shoot action (see "Divergent," etc.). It's great when the industry takes a chance on a new talent, but how about mixing it up? Sony tapped Marc Webb, whose sole previous feature was the modest romantic comedy, "(500) Days of Summer," to revive the "Spider-Man" franchise, and Anthony and Joe Russo, TV guys, were handed "Captain America." Now Colin Trevorrow, who’s directed exactly one itty-bitty independent feature, "Safety Not Guaranteed," has been tapped to direct the reboot of the "Jurassic Park" series. When Deadline.com announced the news of his hire, it asked, "Why Trevorrow?" Good question.

The two of them on women superheroes

Aside from Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, women are still waiting - on screen and off - for a place in the comic-book-branded, fanboy-dominated superhero cosmos. This is not to say that there are no superheroines. Katniss Everdeen, with her deadeye aim and her heavy existential baggage, has proved that a girl can fight injustice and inspire fans as well as any man in a bodysuit and cape. But she had to stage her incursion into the mainstream from the world of young-adult fiction. The Marvel Universe and its DC counterpart - the worlds of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman and the X-Men (notice the pattern) - are strongholds of patriarchy. It’s time for them to open up.

And A.O. Scott on funny women

And while we're at it: It's been three years since "Bridesmaids" proved to the world that a rude, funny, not-quite-romantic (but still kind of romantic) female-centered comedy could make a lot of money. The usual Hollywood response to success like that would be to beat it into the ground, as with the superhero movies. But instead of inundating us with, um, broad comedies, the studios dole out one or two a year, usually starring Melissa McCarthy, as though they were unhealthy snacks that need to be rationed. And yet even the bad ones (like "The Other Woman") do pretty well. So why not give us more? And also better, though that goes without saying.

Thanks both of you. It would be great if the industry finally listened.

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2 Comments

  • aolivkn | May 5, 2014 6:01 PMReply

    Yes. Give them more movies. Level out the statistics. Nevermind that the opportunity to work in said field itself is glossed over, and therefore proof of the existence of a boy's club consisting of more than likely misogynistic white men and devalues any other possible factors as to why the statistics are the way they are. That's all stupid. We just wanna see the numbers change right now.

    As well, female representation needs to change. Kill Bill, a widely seen film about a skilled female assassin that showed her as a three dimensional character, did nothing at all in terms of positing to the world that women can be action heroes as well. Her image in no way ingrained itself into the social consciousness and continues to be seen as an almost iconic character to this day. For that matter, Carrie Ann Moss, Sigourny Weaver, Rooney Mara, Noomi Rapace, Jamie Lee Curtis, Charlize Theron, Lucy Liu, and Drew Barrymore have never been in prominent or leading roles that displayed their characters as passable action heroes.

    I hope you Hollywood heads take my argument seriously even after berating fanboys of Marvel comics and comics in general as adhering to their "patriarchal" figures like Spiderman and Superman. Because those characters in no way shape or form have, at their core, positive moral messages that stand against institutions like totalitarianism or any other kind of authoritative control systems. They're men so it's patriarchy.

    - Manhola Dargis

  • regular guy | May 6, 2014 6:11 AM

    doesnt seem like anybody's listening. ah well, keep up the good fight, ladies. in the meantime........

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